US: City Hopping by Train
January 1, 1970
If you think about traveling through the USA, do you think about doing it by train? Not a lot of people I think. But we wanted to do something different and not follow the worn out path other tourists do. So we decided to go by train from New York to Niagara Falls and as final destination Chicago.
We started in the city, where you need to start if you never have been to the USA, New York! We stayed in the Broadway Hotel & Hostel, it was a really nice hostel/hotel. We had a “private room”, that means we booked two beds in a two bed dorm room. NY is a very expensive place, we liked to stay in Manhattan and we didn’t want to spend all our money on a place to sleep. The hotel/hostel was great, we had a really small room, but it was enough to sleep in. The bathrooms were shared and you had back luck if the person before you made it dirty. But luckily there were more bathrooms and you could choose the cleanest one. So where do you start in this big city? It’s very easy just start at the place closest to your hotel/hostel, that’s what we did.
I can’t count all the times I have seen it in movies and TV series. To see it in real live was fantastic! It was great weather so we walked al long the paths to see kids playing baseball, people walking their dogs, people running and playing tennis. There are so many things to do and see in Central Park because it’s so incredible big, but a view things we saw and can recommend are:
- The view from the westside of the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to Carnegie Hill.
- Umpire Rock (great to see the subsoil where the city is build on)
- Central Park Carousel
- Ballfields Café (they have great hamburgers)
It depends how much time you have to explore the city of New York. If you have multiple days I would recommend buying a discount pass, it’s expensive to buy but you save a lot of money in the end. Even if you are there for four days like us, I recommend to buy one. You have multiple discount cards, where you can see different must see attractions with. I would advise to choose the one who has the most sights you want to see or buy the card with literally almost all attractions of the city. We had 4 days and bought the New York City Pass were we could see 6 sights. Three of them you couldn’t pick yourself:
- Observation deck Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
And there were 3 sights were you could choose between 2 sights:
- Guggenheim museum/Top of the Rock
- Statue of Liberty, Ellis island/ Circle the Line sightseeing cruise
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum/ Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
We chose for the Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty, Ellis island and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and they were all very well organized. It was amazing to see all those great places. Especially the 9/11 memorial was very imposing. New York I will come back sometime and enjoy much more you have to offer!
Amtrak train to Niagara Falls
After our days in New York we arrived very early in the morning at the Penn Station. Went there by subway which run 24/7 in Manhattan so you don’t have to pay an expensive cab, to go there. We already booked our tickets to Niagara Falls online on the Amtrak site. I recommend it if you are not are accustom to traveling long distance by train in the USA. At first it was quite a struggle to find the right place to be, because the station is huge and everywhere you can go with trains to everywhere but the long distance trains of Amtrak have a special track where they take off. In the end we found it thanks to the nice people who work there, they told us were to go. Amtrak recommends to be at the station, at least one hour before leaving. I would say ,go to be save two hours in advantage, then you don’t have to worry about missing the train. But the most important reason for being early is: you have to stand in line to get a good seat. You don’t want to be the last one in the line, then you run the risk of not sitting together with your travel companion for almost 10 hours. The downside of traveling by Amtrak train is, they only go 1 or 2 times a day. It depends where you go. But from New York to Niagara Falls it only goes 1 time a day and that is at 7:15 a.m. So you are stuck with those set times. You only should do this if you have a lot of time. This is not the fast route, it’s the sightseeing route (those take a lot of time, but are more interesting to do). Luckily we were on holiday and had enough time, but we cheated a little bit to save some time. We took the train to Buffalo, rented a car at the airport (a bright red convertible mustang) and drove up to Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.
Niagara Falls (ON)
If you want to see the Niagara Falls, go to the Canadian side. From the Canadian side you have definitely the best view of the American Falls and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. At the Canadian side you have Clifton Hill with:
- A Skywheel
- Ripley’s Believe it or Not
- The House of Frankenstein
- Castle Dracula Wax Museum
- Guinness Worlds of Records
- Fun Factory
And a lot of other attractions and entertainment. To see the Niagara Falls was amazing, you can’t imagine the force and speed of the water when it tumbles down. It’s mesmerizing to see the constant flow of water pouring down traveling 65 km per hour. I will definitely recommend the “Behind the Falls” tour we did. With that tour you can visit the observation deck that is at the foot of the Falls. We got a bright yellow plastic rain poncho and went down 45 meters with an elevator. Then we were behind the Falls and with peepholes we could see the water pouring down. Then we went to the observation desk and you could feel the power and could hear the sound of the Falls. The sound is incredible loud and it’s hard to understand each other, the other thing is the immense mist of the Falls. I was really happy with my poncho, but unless the poncho, you still got wet.
The weather was great so we could enjoy the scenery with the top down. We drove up to Niagara-on-the-Lake. There we could see one of the biggest lakes on the border of Canada and the USA, Lake Ontario. It was a great site to see, especially when we could see the skyline of Toronto. Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the picturesque an beautiful little towns I have ever seen. It almost looks a movie set with the white picket fences and the well maintained borders. I highly recommend it to visit this wonderful place.
Amtrak Train to Chicago
To get to from Niagara Falls to Chicago by Amtrak train you have to transfer in Buffalo. This train also runs 1 time a day. It leave’s at 10:18 a.m. from Niagara Falls and arrives at 1.19 p.m. at Buffalo Depew. The train to Chicago also goes 1 time a day and this train leaves in the evening at 11:59 p.m. That results in the waiting time of almost 11 hours. That’s one of the reasons we rented a car for 1 day a drove back and forth from Buffalo airport to Niagara Falls. You don’t have to be very early for the train to Chicago, an hour will be more than enough. There is a nice waiting room, where you can go to the toilet and have some snacks from the machines.
We reserved like in the previous train, coach seats. That’s a reclining seat with leg rest and a folding table. For us Europeans it was very spacious and luxurious to have that in a train. Also the dining and lounge cars are great. So when you feel hungry or just want a snack, you can go to the lounge car and buy some snacks. If you want dinner in the evening, you can reserve a table in the dining car and you can choose from a range of different meals. The first thing we noticed when we were in the train, was that trains in the USA are very slow. In Europe trains always go faster than cars, but the funny thing is, in the USA the cars drive faster than the trains. For us as Europeans it was very strange to see cars overtake the train in speed.
Chicago is a very big city, it’s the biggest city in the state of Illinois. The city lies next to Lake Michigan and it’s the only lake that lies completely within the United states. We started our visit to the “Windy city” with a trip to the former “Sears Tower”, now called the Willis Tower. This building was until 1998 the highest building in the world. The special thing about this building is not only his height, but also a special feature they made at the 103rd floor. They made “The Ledge”, these are 4 glass balconies that extend a little bit more than a meter outside the building. So you can imaging standing on top of a glass balcony surrounded by glass and looking 103 floors down. It’s not a site I’d ever wanted to stand on, but I did it, I only stood there for a couple seconds and then ran off it. It’s the most scary thing I’ve ever seen in my life. But if you are a daredevil or just not afraid of heights, I would recommend it. It’s is a very special view.
Chicago has a beautiful harbor and a great Navy Pier with a pier park. The attraction park has remote controlled boats, climbing walls, a carrousel, a centennial wheel and more attractions. It’s really nice pier and the view from the Centennial Wheel must be great (I had enough of heights for one day). I Inside the pier is also a kind of shopping mall/restaurants and an IMAX theatre. We ate at one of the eateries inside the pier, where you can get all kinds of foods.
Be sure to have a lot of time, when you plan to go and city hop by train. It’s a very interesting way of travel and you have the opportunity to meet all kinds of people and see the world.
If you are interested to read more about my adventures please visit my blog: www.travelfootsteps.com